Denver Council grants 'landmark status' to abandoned Beth Eden Baptist Church in West Highland

Hostile designation goes against owner's wishes

DENVER - The Denver City Council has approved “landmark” designation for the abandoned Beth Eden Baptist church in the West Highland neighborhood.

The decision, supported by many neighborhood residents, goes against the wishes of the property owner, Highland Square, LLC.

Thomas Wooten told council members that Highland Square purchased the property at 3241 Lowell Boulevard in 2007, with the intention of redeveloping it into mixed use, with retail stores on the first floor and upper-floor residential units.

He said the project has been delayed too long and that designating it a “landmark” would make it more difficult to find a developer willing to work with added restrictions.

But realtor Betty Luce said West Highland is a tight knit community and is Denver’s “hottest” zip code so it shouldn’t be a big problem.

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd bemoaned development that has already taken place.

“There’s a lot of redevelopment in our neighborhood. It is visually shocking,” Shepherd said. “We need uniqueness. Thank God for Dana Crawford. Thank God for LoDo.”

She was referring to Crawford’s efforts to save the buildings in Larimer Square from destruction in the 1960s, and her efforts to gain a historic designation for LoDo.

“Losing that church,” Shepherd said, “would be to lose a little bit of our heart.  It’s part of the unique tapestry that we have here in Denver.”

Councilman Chris Nevitt, who ended up voting for the designation, said it was a very “Solomonic” choice.

“We can’t play for more time,” he said.

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz, who voted against the designation, said she has a problem with hostile designations which are imposed on property owners without their approval.

“I believe it interferes with property rights and quite often it means there is an abuse of the system,” she said.

But John Olson, of Historic Denver, said there is no reason why the old church can’t be an integral part of a new development.

He cited several examples where existing buildings have been successfully repurposed.

One, an old hangar at Stapleton has been converted into a church, he said.

Olson said there other examples where churches have been successfully converted into condos and where one has been converted into a nightclub called “The Church.”

“The neighbors really want to have that part of the old integrated with the new,” he said.

West Highland resident Frank Lucier told 7NEWS that he loves how the neighborhood is being regenerated and loves the density it currently has.  He doesn’t want to see a high rise built on the church property.

“I’d like to see something that supports responsible growth,” he said. “Single family homes and shops.  Something that serves the neighborhood, not the developer.”

When asked if he thought the abandoned church was an eyesore, Lucier replied, “It’s an eyesore to me today, with the shape that it’s in, as you can clearly see.”

He said part of the reason is that the developer quickly tore down some additions to the church so he could put up a high rise.

“I’d love to see it re-shaped,” he said, “and turned into a bit of a community center, or knocked down with responsible growth built around it.”

Another resident, who didn’t want to talk on camera, told 7NEWS that he’d like to see a parking garage built on the spot.  He said the neighborhood's business district is so popular that visitors often can’t find a place to park.

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